Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

In Alfred Hitchcock's suspense thriller:

  • the opening sequence that identified the chilling, homicidal character of Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) - the "Merry Widow Murderer" - evil personified from the very first scenes, as he fled from Philadelphia
  • the scene of Charles' train arrival in the clean and bright city of Santa Rosa, California, to visit his unsuspecting, spinsterish older sister Mrs. Joseph (Emma) Newton (Patricia Collinge), when black funereal smoke belched into the sky and a dark, tarnishing shadow was cast over everything to symbolize the arrival of evil
  • the telepathic twin-ness similarities between Charlie and his namesake - his young favorite niece "Charlie" (Charlotte) Newton (Teresa Wright): ("I can't explain it but you came here and Mother's so happy and I'm glad that she named me after you and that she thinks we're both alike. I think we are too. I know it... we're sorta like twins, don't you see?"), and the developing cat-and-mouse game between the two
  • the sequence of Charlie rushing to the town's library just before it closed at nine pm, to see the contents of an article that Uncle Charlie had suspiciously cut out of her father's newspaper; and her reaction in the reading room -- her eyes widened as she found damning evidence that her Uncle was the "Merry Widow Murderer -- Strangler of Three Rich Women" - and that he was the object of a nationwide search; she also put two-and-two together - the initials engraved on the back of an emerald ring given as a gift to her by Uncle Charlie matched the initials of one of the murderer's victims - it was the film's major turning point - emphasized by the camera's overhead shot isolating her at a distance from behind - among the dark shadows
  • the key dinner table speech (staged as practice for a speech he was promised to give to the town's womens' club), a contemptuous, misogynistic monologue delivered by Uncle Charlie - about his hatred for rich, lazily fat, detestable, middle-aged widow; he was viewed in profile for most of the speech, as the camera moved even closer: "...Women keep busy in towns like this. In the cities it's different. The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. Then they die and leave their money to their wives. Their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women"; young Charlie objected to the degrading characterization: "They're alive! They're human beings!"; Uncle Charlie turned toward the camera, in gigantic close-up and coldly asked: "Are they? Are they, Charlie? Are they human or are they fat wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?"
  • the subsequent ominous discussion between the two Charlies in the nearby 'Til-Two cocktail lounge - a smoke-filled, noisy and dark bar populated by war-time sailors and less-than-respectable, downtrodden ladies both inside and out; at one of the booths, they faced each other as Uncle Charlie began to act aggressively toward his niece: "...Now look, Charlie, Something's come between us. I don't want that to happen. Why, we're old friends. More than that. We're like twins. You said so yourself...." - and then he began lecturing her, accused her of knowing nothing about the real world, and confronted her about what she knew about him: "You think you know something, don't you? You think you're the clever little girl that knows something. There's so much you don't know. So much. What do you know, really? You're just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there's nothing in the world to trouble you. You go through your ordinary little day and at night you sleep your untroubled, ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams. And I brought you nightmares! Or did I, or was it a silly inexpert little lie? You live in a dream. You're a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you rip the fronts off houses you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie! Use your wits. Learn something"; she reluctantly agreed to not say anything if he promised to leave town soon
  • the two failed attempts to kill young Charlie - a tampered-with broken step on the back stairs, and a malfunctioning garage door paired with carbon monoxide poisoning
  • the intense tracking shot, from Uncle Charlie's POV, as young Charlie glided down the stair railing, with the incriminating, offensive, condemning object (the emerald ring) framed in a gigantic closeup on her right hand
  • in the exciting conclusion as Uncle Charlie was departing on the train for San Francisco (on the same train as widowed Mrs. Potter (Frances Carson), his next victim), he struggled between train-cars with young Charlie, restraining her and announcing his homicidal intentions: "I've got to do this, Charlie, so long as you know what you do about me"; when he tightly grabbed her and awaited the train to pick up speed: ("Not yet, Charlie, let it get a little faster! Just a little faster! Faster! Now!"), she reversed positions with him, upset his balance and pushed him away - he fell headlong into the path of an oncoming, speeding train on an adjacent track; the image dissolved to the recurrent one of dancing couples twirling to the Merry Widow Waltz
Murder Attempt on Train


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